Isaiah 2:1-5 ~ Waiting Marked by Hope
‘Soon’ is very much the theme of this Advent season we’ve just begun. It’s not the season of Christmas, nor is it the season of ‘now’; Advent is the season of ‘soon’. ‘Soon’ is not a definite timetable. It’s not something you can set your watch by. In fact, if anything soon is always that next moment that we don’t quite get to until it’s actually here. Advent is a season of looking forward, of planning and anticipating.
For me, I have been waiting and anticipating returning to the pulpit after being away for so long. Yes, I have had my weekly routine of creating videos for the Accessible Faith Project, but I have to say that I’ve missed this, I’ve missed being here… and part of Sabbatical is learning how to wait, to rest, to simply “be” and to trust that the rest will fall into place “soon.” I don’t know how well I have learned that lesson, it is good to be back.
Our society as a whole doesn’t do ‘soon’ very well either. We live in an age where if we want something, we go out and get it. Life is about immediate gratification and doing it now, and not about waiting.
The world in which Isaiah first wrote is not that different from our own. Our passage which Greta read for us this morning was written in a time that was full of political upheaval and threatened invasion. The once-powerful kingdom of David had been divided into two separate kingdoms: Israel with its capital of Samaria in the north, and Judah with its capital of Jerusalem in the south. Assyria threatened to control the whole area. And yet Isaiah speaks a promise from God full of hope, and full of expectation. It is a vision of the new age that is promised to the people of Judah and Jerusalem:
The days are coming when the mountain on which the LORD’s temple stands will be the greatest mountain of all. It will tower above every other peak and hill, and all the world’s nations will come rushing to it like a flood.
People everywhere will say: “Come, let’s go and climb the LORD’s mountain; let us worship in the temple of the God of Jacob. There the LORD will teach us how to live right so that we can get our lives on track.”
The holy mountain will be the place of enlightenment. In the holy city, the LORD’s truth will be made known.
The LORD will settle all disputes between nations, and sort out their competing claims. They will turn weapons into welcome signs and bombs into tools and toys. Never again will nations take up arms against one another; never again will young people be trained for war.
Isaiah’s words speak of longing, of waiting expectantly for a time very soon when God’s ways would be our ways. As we hear them, it’s important to remember that this is not a ‘once-upon-a-time’ kind of story, nor is it a fairy tale. He doesn’t look back at the past with rose-coloured glasses, dreaming of things that happened long ago, in a time far away. Isaiah’s vision is different: it’s a ‘in the days to come’ kind of story. This is a vision of hope of a new age, an age pregnant with possibility and rich with promise. This dream is about things that are going to happen, and happen soon.
Notice, for example, that the word ‘shall’ appears five times within these five short verses. “Shall is the strongest word in our language. It gives place to no doubts, no conditions for the occurrence, and no room for alternate views. Shall means it will absolutely come to pass.” Soon, Isaiah says, this will be a world where there is no longer need for armies or secret police, no more prison compounds or detention centres. Soon this will be a world where the billions of dollars spent on armaments are diverted to feeding, clothing, housing, teaching, and healing the peoples of the world. Soon this will be a world where all are neighbours and every individual in treated as intrinsically precious.
For Isaiah, this sense of ‘soon’ was something as close as one’s next breath. This ‘soon’ would be realized when people looked beyond themselves and their own personal self-interest. That day is surely coming, Isaiah says, where the Lord’s hope for peace will be realized for all people. There’s something about ‘soon’ that gives a sense of hope that no matter how dark the present might seem, that something better is coming.
Even for us, with all of the questions that we have about our congregation, this building, God is present with us in all of those moments all of those questions. I was reminded of a Greek proverb that says “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Isaiah and many of the prophets knew this. They would not live to see the realization of the hope that they expressed, but they most certainly planted those seeds.
This is Advent; this is the season where we immerse ourselves in this sense and seeds of hope that something better is truly coming and truly coming soon. Advent calls us to wait with hope instead of despair. Faith calls us to trust in the promise expressed by Julian of Norwich 600 years ago: “All will be will, all will be well; all manner of things shall be well.” And so as followers of Jesus, we come to worship this morning. We gather together around the table to eat, drink and remember that God is with us, no matter how dark things may seem. We light the candle of hope, and we hear Isaiah’s words of promise… and in these poignant words, in this small flame, we get a glimpse of a holy radiance that is powerful enough to remake the whole world… and soon… soon… it shall be. Thanks be to God! Amen.
“The Urgent Invitation” by R. Michael Sanders as found in The Prophets I: The Storyteller’s Companion to the Bible, vol. 6. Toronto: United Church Publishing House, 1996. Page 35.